Devolution: A Decade On - Justice Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action

  I am writing with reference to the Constitutional Affairs Committee review of Devolution: a Decade on.

  Wales Council for Voluntary Action represents, campaigns for, supports and develops third sector organisations, community action, and volunteering in Wales. It represents the sector at a European, UK, and national level, and together with a range of national specialist agencies, county third councils, and volunteer centres, and other development agencies, it provides a support structure for the third sector in Wales. It has over 2,000 members, and is in touch with many more organisations through a wide range of national and local networks.

  WCVA has consulted widely and regularly with the sector throughout the process of devolution—from the original proposal to establish the National Assembly for Wales, through the Richard Commission, and up to the imminent enhancement of the Assembly's powers and other changes introduced by the new Government of Wales Act.

  Based on this wide-ranging engagement with the sector on the Assembly and issues arising from devolution, I would like to put forward the following comments about issues for the third sector with regard to your current review.

  1.  Eight years on from the advent of devolution a number of fault lines have become evident in the relationship between Wales and Whitehall. Many of these difficulties were highlighted in the consultations WCVA undertook in preparation for the submission of evidence to the Richard Commission. Whilst the new devolution settlement enshrined in the Government of Wales Act 2006 will potentially diminish some of the problems, others will remain.

  2.  The devolution settlement made it difficult for the Assembly Government to develop integrated policies in some areas. For example, whilst the Assembly Government is responsible for planning and promoting education and training in Wales, it does not have responsibility for Sector Skills Councils.

  3.  This is exacerbated where Westminster and the Assembly Government differ on their policy positions and can result in disjointed and even contradictory policies as was the case of the draft Mental Health Bill and the Welsh Assembly Government's Adult Mental Health Strategy.

  4.  The third sector in Wales has strong relationships with the Welsh Assembly Government through the Voluntary Sector Scheme. In England, the third sector and the Government have signed a Compact setting out similar relationships and agreed ways of working—although the Scheme and the Compact have developed differently.

  5.  The third sector in Wales has no agreed relationships for working with any Whitehall departments on non-devolved issues. This has proved a considerable problem since devolution and has put the third sector in a considerably weaker position in influencing policy development, service delivery and support for civil society in Wales on non-devolved issues.

  6.  The sector in Wales has often not been invited to participate in influencing policy development by Whitehall departments at an early and formative stage. For example, as part of the Lottery Review, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently invited National Council for Third Organisations (WCVA's sister body in England) and three third sector umbrella groups for England to preliminary discussions about lottery funding policies. When approached by WCVA, the DCMS made it clear that it did not intend to hold parallel discussions with third sector representatives from the other three countries despite the policy having an equally significant impact on the sector in those countries.

  7.  In other consultations, UK departments have consulted via the Welsh Assembly Government. Whist organisations reported that they feel these consultations have mostly been inclusive and that their opinions have been reflected in the reports, the lack of influence that the Assembly Government has over Whitehall decision-making means that their voices have not been heard.

  8.  In some cases it is apparent that officials Whitehall departments simply do not know whether their policies apply to devolved areas or not, causing confusion and wasted time for third sector organisations. Organisations in Wales have spent time and resources responding to consultations by Whitehall departments only to discover later in the process that the policy will not affect Wales. For example, some organisations in Wales participated in a consultation exercise around the 2003 Treasury crosscutting review only to find that the remit of the review was to include England only.

  9.  There is also lack of clarity about some funding streams. It is relatively clear what the Assembly Government funds, but difficult to determine what Whitehall departments are funding in Wales and why. There is no clarity at time of announcement, or even several months down the line, as discussed later.

  10.  There are examples where Whitehall departments have not involved their counterparts in the Assembly Government in policy development on issues that will have a major impact in Wales. For example, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport failed to consult with the relevant Assembly Government division about the Licensing Bill. Whilst licensing is a non-devolved issue, provisions in the Bill had significant implications on several key policy areas that are the responsibility of the Assembly Government—including the arts, community sustainability and social inclusion.

  11.  There is frequently a lack of clarity about the relevance of Whitehall-led consultations and funding streams to Wales. If a consultation is of consequence there is often no mechanism in place for seeking the views of the third sector in Wales. It is also not clear why UK departments undertake England only reviews which cover nondevolved issues, for example the 2003 Treasury review covering irrecoverable VAT for registered charities.

  12.  The issues described above could be addressed through each Whitehall department with non-devolved functions establishing a statutory committee for Wales. The committee would provide an interface for considering the interaction of non-devolved policies with devolved policy. It could review and advise on consultation arrangements and ensure that the department observes the provisions of the Third Sector Scheme when operating in Wales. Third sector representation on such a committee would be important to ensure the sector's perspective is heard.

  13.  Another area of concern in Wales is the operation of the Public Appointments system. Welsh candidates for UK appointments appear to be disadvantaged by a lack of equality of esteem for their national (ie all-Wales) experience. As a result, applicants from Wales for an England and Wales public body, for example, be appointed and `pigeon-holed' as a Wales member, but would be unlikely to be appointed as a chair or vice chair. It implies that national (Wales) experience is deemed to be of less value that national (England) experience.

  14.  There are therefore a number of recommendations that the committee is invited to consider:

    —  each non-devolved department should establish a statutory committee for Wales to keep the interface with devolved policies and arrangements under review;

    —  the statutory committee should include members with knowledge of the third sector in Wales;

  —  the statutory committee should ensure there is full consultation within Wales of all non-devolved policies affecting Wales;

    —  non-devolved departments should use the principles set out in the National Assembly Voluntary Sector Scheme to guide their relationships with the third sector in Wales;

    —  there must be absolute clarity on how (or whether) policies of non-devolved departments impact on Wales at the earliest stage of their development; and

    —  public appointments procedures should be reviewed to ensure that the experience of candidates on an all-Wales basis is considered to be of equal value to experience on an all-England basis.

  I hope these comments are helpful, and I look forward to the outcome of the committee's deliberations.

Graham Benfield OBE

Chief Executive

April 2007

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